It wasn’t all bad in Brisbane. England played well for the best part of three days, honest. Unfortunately, Australia were just better during all the crunch moments and that proved pivotal. The Aussies looked far more likely to take 20 wickets, but the biggest difference between the sides was the batting. Alongside Australia’s significantly ‘waggier’ tail they also managed to convert their starts, or rather Steve Smith did, which England could not. For Joe Root, his second innings 51 was a microcosm of his recent inability to go big when set.
It shows just how much quality Root possesses when you can only nit-pick on his relative inability to turn fifties into hundreds. After all, you’d take a guaranteed fifty, which it so often is with Root. To win in Australia, though, you need mountains of runs and your best batsman fully firing. With a slight tendency to fall over at the crease having cropped up, England will feel they have neither right now.
Root’s 51 and out in Brisbane continues a worrying trend for the Yorkshireman. He has converted 28.26 per cent of his Test fifties into hundreds, the worst percentage of the current top-10 ranked Test batsmen. Across his entire career the England captain has come a cropper 29 times when between the scores of 51 and 90; it’s clearly an issue. For someone so talented, and with 13 Test hundreds to his name, you cannot help but wonder how invincible Root would be if he could overcome his post-fifty slumps.
The comparison with Australia captain Steve Smith could not be starker. If there was any doubting the comparative number one and two batting rankings of Smith and Root then Brisbane brutally erased these just as Smith viciously swatted Chris Woakes and Jake Ball away after initially digging in so impressively.
Smith’s twenty-first Test century was just about the perfect innings. Composed and organised when all about him were floundering, Smith allowed himself to get in, set a platform and then, crucially, he cashed in, never relenting in his goal to pulverise the England bowlers. Root could learn a thing or two from the complete and utter bloody-mindedness Smith displayed. No one was going to get him out.
Smith, by the way, has a 50 per cent conversion rate, almost double that of Root’s. In addition, he averages a ton every five innings, Root every 8.6. Statistics do not lie and neither does the aura both men give off at the crease. Smith clearly grows in stature once past the twenties and thirties. It is as if it is then a dead certainty that he’s got you. Root, by comparison, appears to crumble under the pressure.
Whether due to technical gremlins or continual lapses of concentration, Root’s not quite turning in enough of the match-defining innings that he could be. Having done homework formulating plans with his bowlers, Root could do worse than to study Smith’s temperament and take a leaf out of his book.